Primary Sources

Why married men earn more money; Why "Dave" is sexier than "Paul"; the coming real-estate crash; does the Times best-seller list matter?


The Wages of Marriage

Getting married has long been thought to be an excellent career move for men, who tend to earn considerably more when hitched than when single. The question, of course, is whether the higher salaries are actually caused by marriage or merely reflect a correlation between the qualities that make a good mate and those that make a good employee. A partial answer is provided by two economists who took a sample of married and unmarried men, controlled for education level and age, and found that the married men earned 20 percent more than the single ones. Then the economists looked at identical twins (thereby controlling for factors such as upbringing, physical attractiveness, mental capability, and so on) and found an even more pronounced marriage effect: the married twins earned 27 percent more than their unmarried brothers. The authors cite what they call the "popular explanations" for this marriage premium—employers are biased toward married men, and marriage allows men to spend less time on domestic chores and more time in the office—and then offer one of their own. "Because the income of married men affects the well-being of their spouse and children," they write, married men are likely to "work harder and more assertively seek out raises and better job opportunities."

"Are All the Good Men Married? Uncovering the Sources of the Marital Wage Premium," Kate Antonovics (UC-San Diego) and Robert Town (University of Minnesota)

What's in a Name?

If you feel that the opposite sex isn't giving you the attention you so richly deserve, maybe you should consider making a change—a name change, that is. According to a preliminary study by an MIT cognitive scientist, the vowel sounds in people's names may have an impact on how others judge their attractiveness. Specifically, when the men in the study were assigned names with a stressed front vowel (a vowel sound spoken at the front of the mouth), they were rated as more attractive than when they were assigned names with a stressed back vowel. (In other words, good news for Dave, Craig, Ben, Jake, Rick, Steve, Matt; bad news for Lou, Paul, Luke, Tom, Charles, George, John.) In women the effect was reversed, and a stressed back vowel (Laura, Julie, Robin, Susan, Holly) boosted sex appeal, whereas a stressed front vowel (Melanie, Jamie, Jill, Tracy, Ann, Liz, Amy) had the opposite effect—to the author's disappointment, no doubt.

"What's in a Name? The Effect of Sound Symbolism on Perception of Facial Attractiveness," Amy Perfors, MIT


Bubble, Bubble

Considering refinancing your house? Maybe you ought to think twice. According to two economists at Goldman Sachs, the oft rumored housing bubble is real—and it's global. Goldman's research looks in depth at housing prices in the United States, the UK, and Australia, and estimates that prices are, respectively, 10, 15, and 29 percent higher than they ought to be based on market fundamentals. In America prices headed upward in the mid-1990s—with good reason, because housing was undervalued in the middle of the decade. Lower mortgage rates were the main driver, with each percentage-point decrease in interest rates producing about a five percent increase in housing value. When the bubble pops, the result will most likely hurt homeowners and help renters, since rents usually fall in a softer housing market.

—"House Prices: A Threat to Global Recovery or Part of the Necessary Rebalancing?" Mike Buchanan and Themistoklis Fiotakis, Goldman Sachs [This study is unavailable online.]


ET, Phone Earth

The first close encounter may be closer than you think—if by "close encounter" you mean a radio encounter over light-years of interstellar space. According to calculations by Seth Shostak, the chief astronomer at the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (seti) Institute, if there is intelligent life elsewhere in our galaxy, advances in computer processing power and telescope technology will enable us to detect its transmissions within the next two decades. Shostak's projection relies on the admittedly speculative estimate that—based on the number of stars in the Milky Way, the number of stars likely to have planets, and the number of planets likely to have life—10,000 to one million alien radio transmitters may be broadcasting from within our galaxy. (Other opinion, he allows, "avers that no other contemporary, sentient galactic societies exist.") Shostak assumes, as do many other scientists, that computer processing power will continue to double every eighteen months for the next ten years (it has reliably done so for four decades in a row), and then double only every thirty-six months in the following decade. These increases will allow for ever faster canvassing of the galaxy, and for reception of alien signals somewhere between 2014 and 2027. Of course, the transmitting civilizations will be 200 to 1,000 light-years away, and sending a reply will take centuries. All the more reason to start thinking about what we're going to say.

"When Will We Detect the Extraterrestrials?" Seth Shostak, SETI Institute


All in the Family

Family-owned companies are bad for business, a new study argues—at least when they dominate a large chunk of a country's economy. Outside the United States and the United Kingdom, most major corporations are in the hands of a few wealthy families, rather than being owned by a wide network of shareholders. The power of these small families often extends far beyond the companies they own directly, thanks to a system of "control pyramids" in which they exercise indirect control over a slew of smaller companies. This concentration of corporate power doesn't merely leave a high percentage of wealth in the hands of billionaires (see chart)—it also retards growth, diminishes efficiency, and limits economic freedom. Moreover, "a tiny elite that cannot be sacked," as the study puts it, is likely to pursue "economic entrenchment," in which property rights and financial openness are curbed to protect a few families' economic and political prerogatives.

"Corporate Governance, Economic Entrenchment and Growth," Randall Morck, Daniel Wolfenzon, and Bernard Yeung, NBER

Misery in a Kilt

In a study called "The Scots May Be Brave but They Are Neither Happy nor Healthy" the authors report that—well, the title more or less tells the story. Despite rising economic fortune, self-reported well-being is lower in Scotland than elsewhere in the United Kingdom. Scots suffer from higher rates of depression than other residents of the UK, and from high rates of suicide and accidental death. This last is probably influenced by the amount of alcohol consumed in Scotland—which also has some relationship to the Scots' relative unhealthiness, manifested in rates of obesity, multiple sclerosis, asthma, and diabetes that are higher than elsewhere in Great Britain or in Europe as a whole. With all this to cope with, it's no wonder that middle-aged Scots have, on average, blood-pressure readings among the highest in the Western world.

"The Scots May Be Brave but They Are Neither Healthy nor Happy," David Bell (University of Stirling) and David G. Blanchflower (Dartmouth)


The Tom Clancy Effect?

It's the holy grail of authors. Its tabulations are shrouded in mystery. Its lucky fifteen are regularly stacked in front at bookstores. But does the New York Times best-seller list increase sales as well as reflect them? According to an analysis of the Times hardcover fiction titles conducted by a professor at Stanford Business School, the answer is yes—but primarily for authors making their first appearance on the list. It's true that Times best sellers sell much better than other books: in the twenty-six-week sample taken, the 205 titles that had appeared on the Times list accounted for 84 percent of all books sold. But the study uses raw sales data from various sources to argue that the Times list regularly makes mistakes in its picks—in 2001 and 2002, 109 works of hardcover fiction that should have made the list never cracked the Times's top fifteen—and then compares the sales of books that should have been listed but weren't to those of books that did make the list. It turns out that although having a book appear on the Times list for the first time can boost an author's sales by as much as 57 percent, the list's significance drops off sharply once an author has become well established. (For the John Grishams and Danielle Steels of the world, an appearance in the Times top fifteen has no discernible impact on sales.) As for the claim that best-seller lists create a herd mentality that crowds out other titles, the study finds that in fact the opposite may be true: a book's appearance on the list actually tends to boost sales for other books in the same genre.

"Bestseller Lists and Product Variety: The Case of Book Sales," Alan T. Sorensen, Stanford University

Under the Sprintfluence

Driving while talking on a cell phone can be more dangerous than driving drunk. A recent study ran a driving simulation comparing the response time of drivers conducting cell-phone conversations and drivers who were legally intoxicated (they drank "a mixture of orange juice and vodka"—in more technical language, a screwdriver). Although the intoxicated drivers tended to follow other cars more closely and brake more violently, the drivers conversing on cell phones exhibited a greater delay in their response to events on the road, and were more likely to be involved in a collision. (Interestingly, it made no difference whether the cell-phone drivers were using handheld or hands-free equipment.) The intoxicated drivers actually drove more slowly, and had a better braking response, than the study's control group (participants who were neither drunk nor talking on a cell phone). But before you toss away your phone and reach for another shot of tequila, it's worth noting that the screwdriver-drinking participants had a blood-alcohol level of only .08—drunk, but not that drunk.

"A Comparison of the Cell Phone Driver and the Drunk Driver," D. Strayer, F. Drews, and D. Crouch, AEI-Brookings Joint Center for Regulatory Studies

The Branding of the President

Based on research done jointly by the branding firm Landor Associates and the polling firm Penn, Schoen & Berland, this chart shows some of the brands that likely Bush supporters, Kerry supporters, and undecided voters associate with the candidates.

Bush SupportersCoffeeFolgersStarbucks
Fast FoodSubwayMcDonald's
BeerBud LightHeineken
Kerry SupportersCoffeeDunkin' DonutsStarbucks
Fast FoodMcDonald'sSubway
BeerBud LightSamuel Adams
Undecided VotersCoffeeDunkin' DonutsStarbucks
Fast FoodMcDonald'sSubway
BeerBud LightHeineken

"Presidential ImagePower® Study Compares Bush and Kerry to Well-Known Brands," Landor Associates and Penn, Schoen and Berland Associates.